With Derek Fisher’s arrival as head coach, both New York Knicks fans and Phil Jackson can finally exhale as the first major acquisition of the Phil era finally has been revealed. With Fisher, Jackson will entrust a former player to lead his vision of making the Knicks a championship contender.
This is obviously the biggest move Jackson has made thus far, but it’s actually the latest in an already established pattern of bringing in former players and associates he worked with on the Los Angeles Lakers. While it’s commendable to bring on personages he has a positive personal relationship with, lately it’s got me wondering if the Knicks might be a little, well, Lakers-heavy.
When Shannon Brown was brought in it simply made sense to quickly fill a roster hole with a player he was already familiar with. Clearly it wasn’t a move that saved the season, but even after the Knicks were eliminated from the playoffs Jackson hastily nabbed another former player, Lamar Odom, that probably served more as an olive branch to Odom than a calculated risk for the Knicks.
Weeks later, after Jackson dismissed the entire Knicks coach staff, rumors circulated of Steve Kerr being his number one target to replace Mike Woodson. Again it was a former player that would captivate Phil.
We all know how that ended though.
After weeks of speculation, Kerr would end up spurning Jackson to sign with the Golden State Warriors.
At the time, Phil’s close relationship with Kerr was cited as the biggest reason why Kerr was pursued so heavily. However, despite the interesting inventory of possible coaching candidates available at the time, a number of them former Coaches of the Year, the only names linked back to the Knicks were again only confined to individuals Jackson worked with in the past.
Dismal names like Rick Fox, Bill Cartwright, and even Kurt Rambis were pretty much received by a collective sigh of indifference from Knicks fans when they were first reported, but to Jackson, they very well might have been considered premier targets.
Knowing that, its no surprise that a somewhat radical candidate but engaging player like Fisher is being welcomed warmly despite a commanding five-year deal to a rookie coach. And that’s no slight to Fisher because I think he’s going to be terrific coach one day, but to put it mildly…
Feel kind of relieved Knicks didn’t end up with a 7 year Rick Fox deal though. #MrBrightSide
— Richard Bertin (@richardbertin) June 9, 2014
I’ll be honest — back in March, if Doc Brown had frantically grabbed me off the street with news from the future that the next Knicks coach would be an out of nowhere name like Fisher instead of more esteemed ones like Jeff Van Gundy, Jerry Sloan, and Mark Jackson, I probably would have barrel rolled into his Delorean to prevent whatever unfortunate events that lead to that news.
Today, we know that Phil struck out with Kerr, but at this point it seems pretty clear that its by design he is surrounding himself with former players. Other rumored names that have come out over the past few days continue the trend: An all Laker Assistant Coaching staff, Pau Gasol, Metta, and even Kobe! So, how should Knick fans feel about this?
There’s two ways to look at this, and I’ll start with what makes me uncomfortable. When you only bring in people that share your style of thinking, you run the risk of limiting yourself to a philosophy that will not be challenged. Phil’s the boss, though, so of course it makes sense to bring in associates that will fall in line with his strategy, but I worry about what happens if the triangle doesn’t work.
Who will be experienced and proven enough to offer a counter strategy to a man that is the basketball version of a deity? The league is changing dramatically since Phil coached and he is not exactly on the vanguard of an analytics movement that is not just shifting the way we understand sports, but also the world at large. Whether Phil believes in the data movement or not, the Knicks will be at a disadvantage compared to other teams that experiment and embrace this new data-driven strategy if they go into next year without having someone to share this kind of thinking.
The other thing I worry about is the further disconnection of the Knicks alumni. Phil has alluded the importance of championing the Knicks past teams, but as I look around the Garden, I don’t see much hope for bringing back former icons that are not just revered by fans but also the only men alive aside from Phil and Walt Frazier that can talk from experience about what it means to win in New York.
Let’s face it: New Yorkers are different from LA guys and not knowing the history of the team and culture of the city is something fans always pick-up on. I’m not saying the Knicks should have hired Patrick Ewing, but it’s not a good feeling to see former players looking for opportunity to continually be dismissed. Knicks fans are fiercely loyal to past favorites and it certainly doesn’t hurt to invite them into sharing their experiences with the current team.
Of course, there is a positive way of looking at the Laker influence. It’s important to remember that Phil is new to team building so it is beneficial to bring in people that haven’t been plagued by team politics or a bad track record. More importantly, though, it will only further isolate Dolan from mingling with the team since there no longer is trusted confidants he can rely on to serve as his proxy in the locker room. I wasn’t kidding when I wrote about how major it was for the Knicks to finally part ways with Herb Williams. I didn’t believe it at first when Phil said he had full autonomy with the team but what we are seeing with these roster moves is that sovereignty in action.
At the end of the day, the combined 18 rings of Phil and Fisher outweighs any criticism you can make about where the team is heading, and it’s important to trust Phil and keep quiet over whatever moves he’s making. At the very least, he’s owed that space to do whatever he believes is the best course of action. So with that I’m going to keep quiet and let Phil continue to work his magic, and you should too.